Why is terrorism different?
I get that random, rare attacks carried out for ideological reasons are very scary.
But with terrorism, we quickly get to the point where we lose perspective, where we become almost mindlessly obsessed with retribution and vengeance, with gory and often irrelevant details.
Consider: CNN can spend a whole day talking about medical intubation because the terrorist suspect happens to be intubated.
Maybe it's therapeutic, just like the way we praise ourselves for coming together and being resilient. Maybe it's a function of how we all reacted after Sept. 11, an event in its own category. We are trained to react this way. I'm not knocking these collective expressions of self-psychology. Social healing is important.
The Obama administration wants to use the marathon bombings to set a policy example. By announcing that the Miranda exemption was invoked to interrogate Dzhokhar Tsarnaev before he was read his rights, by regularly and repeatedly talking about cooperation between the intelligence and law enforcement communities, by quickly going ahead with an indictment, they want to break the association we have between terrorism and exceptionality. I'm not sure that depriving an American citizen of his rights by throwing him into the military justice system, or a third detention system that doesn't even exist, would do anything but increase that association.
From a legal perspective, the more times the Obama administration publicly exercises its view of terrorism justice, the more legitimate it becomes, both nationally and internationally. We should treat terrorists differently because terrorism is different than other expressions of mass violence, like mass shootings. But not that differently. The same Miranda exemption could and should be used to interrogate mass shooting suspects because they too have conspirators and others could be ready to carry out harm in their name. (It's called the "public safety exemption" for a reason).
Terrorism is different, to be sure, but it succeeds when it becomes so exceptional that we become revanchist.
The Boston area seems OK with the order to shelter in place and the deployment of the National Guard. Maybe it was because the "end" came so quickly.
During the hunt for Christopher Dorner in the Los Angeles area, not even the mountain resort where he was suspected of holing up at was shut down. Every morning during the hunt for the DC snipers I had to zig-zag my way from my apartment to the Metro, not knowing if someone was hiding in the bushes. I think Angelinos and Washingtonians very much would have seen an order to stay home as a wholesale overreaction of the police state.
Somehow I know that Boston is different. But I don't know exactly how.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Obama just kneecapped Jeb Bush and Chris Christie's 2016 prospects
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- 6 tiny scientific mistakes that created huge disasters
- It's official: The religious right is calling it quits
- The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1: 10 major differences between the book and the movie
- 10 classic Sesame Street moments we wouldn't show today's kids
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- What could happen if the Supreme Court rules against ObamaCare
- The slippery slope of Twitter's attempts to stop harassment against women
- The week's best editorial cartoons
Subscribe to the Week